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8 Best AR-15 Stripped Upper Receivers: Build It Yourself

So you’re ready to build your own AR-15 upper but aren’t sure of the upper receiver?

We’ve got you covered with our personal go-to mil-spec receiver, and also a couple of unique options that will turn heads.

F1 Firearms Upper with Vortex PST II
F1 Firearms Upper with Vortex PST II

If you haven’t read my AR-15 Guide that goes over all the components of an AR, I’d suggest starting there first.  Otherwise, I’ll suppose that you’re well-versed in everything AR and ready to just see what’s the best upper receiver.

Upper Receiver Forge Marks

AR-15 Upper Receive Forge Mark
AR-15 Upper Receive Forge Mark

You might have heard about forge marks, which are above the forward assist.  This just designates which metal forging company created the upper blank.  The end company (such as Aero) is the one that actually machines the upper.

So the forge mark by itself means nothing since the quality really comes from the final company (and there are differences).

Best AR-15 Stripped Receivers

1. Aero Stripped Upper Receiver

The gold standard ($80) in my mind that lets you choose your own forward assist and port door.  Comes with M4 feedramps, laser engraved T-marks for the rails, and also available in several colors for a little bit more.

Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver
Aero Stripped AR-15 Upper Receiver

I’ve built almost a dozen AR-15 uppers for myself and friends and have almost exclusively gone with Aero Precision.  They got their start manufacturing for the aerospace industry (name checks out) and moved into AR-15 parts.  

Stripped Upper Receiver and Forward Assist
Stripped Upper Receiver and Forward Assist

Now they are really gunning with complete AR-15’s and even barrels too.

Best Mil-Spec Upper
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I’ve had no problems with any of my builds and if you do any searches you’ll see that it’s almost exclusively positive comments.  Remember to finish out your stripped upper with an upper parts kit ($17)

2. Aero M4E1 Stripped Upper Receiver

The upgraded version of the mil-spec that gives a billet look without the doubling in price.  My personal favorite now for my builds and what lives on my home defense gun (full review).

Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil
Aero Precision M4E1 16 Midlength Pencil
Editor's Pick Upper Receiver
at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Remember to finish out your stripped upper with an upper parts kit ($17) or simply look at assembled uppers which are basically the same price with the upper parts installed.

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

No need to scrape anything when installing…or go nuts on the port door.

Ejection Port Spring
Ejection Port Spring, SnareMan

What’s your take?

Readers' Ratings

4.99/5 (526)

Your Rating?

3. Blemished Aero Uppers

And if you’re balling on a budget, you can get a “blemished” version (~25% off) of the stripped or assembled upper (depending on their stock).  “Blemished” just means there’s some cosmetic abnormalities that will not affect actual function.

The last two builds I’ve done have been with Aero blem uppers and I had to really look to find the cosmetic problem.  And of course they’ve all worked fine.

Here’s the latest one…looks like there’s a scuff & a dimple.  I put more scuffs on mine during a match!  If you want to save a couple bucks I’d go this route.

Aero Blemished Upper
Aero Blemished Upper

Bad thing is that they are usually snatched up as soon as they become available.

4. Aero Slick (No Forward Assist) Upper

If you have never used the forward assist and want to shave some weight off…you can get a no forward assist upper ($84).  This type of upper is also known as a “slick” upper.

at Aero Precision

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

In my opinion I just like the look of the forward assist and I go by the mantra that I’d rather have it and not use it, than need it and not have it.  Especially on a more duty rifle build.

5. VLTOR MUR Upper Receiver

The MUR upper receiver ($200) has thicker walls to make it a more rigid shooting platform which should translate to more accuracy.  Plus it looks different and cool enough to get some envious looks.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

6. Battle Arms Development

If you want to go light…but not at the expense of extreme lightening cuts and possible reduced reliability.

Best Lightweight Upper
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Plus…I dig the Tron-esque design.

7. F1 Firearms UDR-15-3G Upper Receiver

Probably as light as you can go…and geared towards turning heads at rifle competitions (not home-defense).  If you’re in a dusty environment I’d keep it covered…but otherwise initial reports say that the large cuts don’t affect function even with tons of rounds downrange.

One point I’d knock it down for is that you can’t use a Magpul BAD lever with it.

Here it is on my new competition upper.

F1 Firearms Upper
F1 Firearms Upper
Lightest Upper Receiver
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

8. Bootleg Inc

One of my latest builds uses a Bootleg upper receiver combo-ed with their PicLOK handguard that…you guessed it…allows for both Picatinny and M-LOK attachment.

Bootleg Upper Receiver and Rail
Bootleg Upper Receiver and Rail

Very cool and slick, especially with their adjustable gas BCG (no more switching out your gas block).

Bootleg Upper and Adjustable BCG
Bootleg Upper and Adjustable BCG

If you want something different yet functional, you can’t go wrong with Bootleg’s latest.

at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing


Now that you’ve seen our suggestions for the best AR-15 upper receiver (both stripped and assembled), you’re one step closer to your build.  Check out the rest of our AR- 15 Guides to continue your parts selection and overall education.  And if you’re ready to build…here’s our AR-15 Upper Assembly Visual Guide.

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14 Leave a Reply

  • John

    Going to modify my S&W M&P 15 Sport from its stock 16" barrel/carbine-length-gas-tube configuration to an 18" barrel with a rifle-length-gas tube configuration. This seems like a good opportunity to transform the gun into a Wilde-chambered unit. Besides a Wilde-configured barrel, what other Wilde-configured parts (if any) will be needed? I can't tell from PewPew's write-ups whether the upper receiver and/or any other components would need to be replaced. Following the "do it right or do it twice" rubric, I want to marshal all of the parts prior to doing this mod.

    September 23, 2019 1:39 pm
    • Axel Anderson

      All you'll need is a barrel. Your upper receiver will never need to be changed while changing cartridges. The most you will ever need to change is your bolt, barrel, and magazine. A lot of guys will by whole new upper assemblies because it is easier to switch calibers on the go that way. Hope this helps!

      January 11, 2020 11:55 am
  • bob

    Howdy, Is that Bootleg upper O.D. green ?

    May 23, 2019 5:08 pm
  • Michael

    I’m looking at using the bootleg upper but reading people say it’s not compatible with their handguards. Can you confirm if it’ll fit with an aero or more generic handguards?

    March 16, 2019 6:07 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Michael, I got it as a set so I didn't have the chance to try it with others. I'd ask Bootleg or check online to see what other ones are compatible.

      March 17, 2019 11:10 am
  • Alan

    I like how the first 4 are Aero. Not that I think that is a bad thing.

    January 8, 2019 7:10 pm
  • B.

    Is the mil spec aero, the numer one of the list, different than the m4e1 aero or the m5e1 where the gas tube goes? I want to do a build with an inconel tube and vseven says their tubes are no go on m4e1 uppers on their site. I dont have both to compare.

    August 12, 2018 5:49 am
  • Samuel

    Yess how r u doing . im having trouble with my ar15 which jamming up in the recycling port for anothe bullet to cycle i was wondering if i can use a different BCG . MY barrel is capable of caliber 223 556. An wondering how can start building my own ar15 to Georgia regulations

    June 15, 2018 8:29 am
  • Ludas

    Any serious builder should be using BCM stripped uppers exclusively. Mainly for the under cut barrel port. It makes the tightest fit in the industry.

    July 13, 2016 8:18 pm
    • ehung

      Hi Ludas, thanks for your comment! BCM does make some pretty good stuff and I'm looking forward to trying a build with them one day. But so far my aeros have held up with good results.

      July 13, 2016 9:10 pm
      • AnonInCA

        Also worth a look: black rain ordnance. I've yet to build one yet, but did recently get my first ar15 (forged) stripped lower and milled ar10 upper/lower that fits *perfectly* together.

        I may get a couple more in the near future... Silly CA laws coming December 1, but that's another topic.

        I love your site btw! Just found it last night.

        September 1, 2016 7:44 pm
        • ehung

          Thanks for reading and for the rec! I've heard of them but haven't had a chance to try them out yet.

          September 2, 2016 5:24 pm
          • bowlz

            Hey can someone confirm for me if there are any restrictions on the type of Complete Upper Receiver used on a CA "Featureless" AR build? Specifically I am curious about purchasing a Colt LE6920 Upper but it falls on the Calguns flowchart under Appendix A/B of banned weapons. Does this count for a build as well?? Thanks!

            September 25, 2016 3:18 pm
          • ehung

            Hi, in short it should be legal since the lower is the part that is regulated. As long as your barrel is the right length and you meet the other featureless criteria when assembled (no flash hider, etc), it should be good to go. Check out the featureless rifle article for more details.

            September 25, 2016 3:28 pm
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